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Research Spotlight: Donald Pemberton

Q & A with Donald Pemberton, Director, Lastinger Center for Learning

What basic questions does your research seek to answer?

Our research at the Lastinger Center seeks to solve real problems in the world by focusing on improving child learning and developmental outcomes. We engage in translational research, that is, taking research from the cognitive and learning sciences, and applying this knowledge with evidence-based best practices to design and build scalable systems that have a significant impact on teacher practice and student learning.

What makes your work interesting?

Our Center is engaged in every part of the research, design, and build process that our systems and programs go through. Being able to take the research and develop a system that provides solutions to the questions and issues that arise is challenging yet incredibly rewarding. Helping all children have access to high-quality learning opportunities, particularly those who are the most underserved, is the heart of our work.

A good example of this process is with our Winning Reading Boost program. This program was developed using the most recent research on brain function, language acquisition, and reading instruction to help the most struggling students learn to read in just a matter of weeks. We have children, who at the beginning of the program can read no more than three or four words, and become fluent readers in just a few months. To see lives transformed through programs based on research and practice is what keeps us continuously researching, innovating, and building.

What are you currently working on?

The Lastinger Center has a number of initiatives that are being implemented across Florida and the country. Our Algebra Nation and Math Nation programs are currently being utilized by nearly 500,000 students in four states and are expanding to South Carolina this fall. Our evaluation team is currently analyzing student achievement data from the Florida Department of Education to measure the impact that the program has on student mastery of algebra.

Early Learning Florida is a statewide professional learning system for early learning educators. Built in response to findings from a multi-year study on the early childhood workforce, Early Learning Florida is improving teacher practice through innovative, engaging courses and individualized coaching and instructional supports. Since 2015, over 15,000 teachers have received professional development, and an independent evaluation by the Yale Child Study Center found a 25% improvement in teacher-child interactions.

We also have been leading a STEM initiative in Palm Beach for the last three years, and saw significant impacts on student learning as a result. There was a 20-point improvement in student achievement on the 2015 Algebra 1 End of Course exam for students whose teachers were involved in our STEM initiative in Palm Beach.

Our Winning Reading Boost program is currently being piloted in Pinellas and Alachua counties. Students are assessed using a series of tests, and each cohort has demonstrated that the program excels at helping children decode more accurately and automatically, transforming students into fluent, confident readers.

We continue to seek out new opportunities to reach those children who most need support and are in various stages of the research, design, and build process for other innovations. Our work at the Lastinger Center is never done, and we are energized by and committed to answering the most challenging issues found in education.